Messaging in the US is a complicated conversation. For iPhone users, it’s overwhelmingly iMessage. For Android users, it’s a toss-up. WhatsApp is king of the third-party options, followed by others like Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Signal. Google’s default option, Messages, has always been a standard SMS messaging app lacking the features of other apps. Lately, Google wants to change that.
Many of these changes hinge on RCS, SMS’ successor. With it, Google is able to add features incompatible with SMS, and bring the default messaging option in line with any of the third-party options people gravitate toward. The transition isn’t perfect, especially since Apple won’t budge. But even without Apple, Google has managed to turn its Messages app into a contender, in no small part thanks to a recent suite of new features.
Google announced these changes in a blog post on Thursday, highlighting them as “10 new reasons to love Messages by Google.” With this bulletin, it’s clear the company is aggressively selling its messaging solution to the Android community. The good news is there’s reason to be excited.
First up is Messages’ new app icon. Now, the icon sports two chat bubbles, one significantly more prominent than the other, and is designed for Material You. The same goes for the Contacts and Phone app icons. These icons will join Google’s other app icons and match the theme of your phone’s wallpaper. By default, they have a blue theme, but, as you can see below, they’ll adapt to match whatever colour scheme you have.
One of my favourite new features is the ability to watch YouTube videos directly in Messages. Sure, this is one feature other chat apps have had, but it’s better late than never. You won’t need to switch over to the YouTube app just to watch a video your friend sent you.
Earlier this year, Google bridged a major gap between iOS and Android by turning iPhone reactions into emojis in Google Messages. Now, it goes both ways, as you can react to SMS texts from iPhones with emojis as well. Unfortunately, they’ll still show up as a full-text reaction on the iPhone user’s side (i.e. “Jake liked ‘Do you want to see a movie tonight?’”), as well as for any other RCS user that happens to be in the chat. If the chat is all RCS users, however, the emoji reactions will appear as normal. Hopefully, Apple can at least meet Google halfway here, if not adopt RCS altogether. Nobody wants those pedantic texts cluttering up group threads.
You’ll also be able to reply to specific messages, similar to how replies work with iMessage and Messenger. Your reply will be tied to a preview of the original message, making it easier to keep track of what you’re responding to.
In good news for frequent fliers, RCS now works on United Airlines’ in-flight wifi, which means you won’t need to wait until landing to keep up with conversations in Google Messages. Hopefully, more airlines are added in the future. Until then, if you’re a die-hard RCS user, you might go out of your way to book through United rather than another company.
With Voice Message Transcription, we’ve come full circle. Voice messages are a convenient halfway point between text and phone call. You want to send a quick message to someone, but you don’t have the patience to type it all out by hand. Then again, if the recipient isn’t somewhere they can listen to the message, they won’t know what you said. If you have the right phone, however, Android will transcribe audio messages for you, turning them back into “text” messages. This feature is available on Pixel 7, 7 Pro, 6, 6A, 6 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S22 or Fold 4.
Google Messages also now integrates with your reminders. If you schedule a reminder to call someone for their birthday, for example, you’ll see the reminder when you open their contact to chat with them. This can happen passively, too: Messages will automatically remind you of important events, like birthdays and anniversaries, when those events are tied to contacts. If you have your anniversary saved, you’ll see a reminder when your open a message thread with your significant other.
One key feature sure to save many of us is the ability to star important messages. This option should be perfect for those times contacts message us information we’ll need to know later, like addresses, phone numbers, dates. While it isn’t clear whether you can star whatever messages you want, Google Messages will suggest messages to star on its own. Speaking of suggestions, Google Messages will also suggest starting a Meet call on texts like “Do you have time to talk now?” and will suggest adding calendar entries for messages with times and/or dates.
Depending on your country of residence, you might also see a new feature that lets you chat with businesses in Google Messages. The feature looks similar to Business Chat on iOS, but it allows you to ask questions of businesses you discover in Search or Maps.
Finally, Google would like to remind you the Pixel Watch exists, even if reviews have been less than stellar. If you do own a Pixel Watch, you can start texts from the watch, as well as other devices like Chromebooks.